Special Thanks to dave, eCommerce brand director—and his partner chad—for this submission.As a kid I remember sketching house designs and floor plans—day-dreaming of being an architect. So when the opportunity arose to design and build a home with my fiancee Chad—it was literally a dream come true. Our ultimate goal was to create a modern, small, affordable, and fun home. With the help of our dear friend, architect Scott Delano, we designed and built a 1600 sq. ft. house that met all of our needs—including maintaining a budget of $140 / sf. Chad and I both have a modern aesthetic—with slight variations on the final touches. I prefer simple, clean designs mixed with vintage while Chad’s style is a little more industrial—Scott’s design successfully balances both our styles. Throughout most of 2011—with the help of our architect and our realtor Joaquin Calle, brother of CB2’s very own Marta Calle—we viewed quite a few potential lots and Scott developed about 20 house designs for strong contenders. In December, we decided on a lot near Andersonville, a neighborhood we loved and wanted to establish roots in. Since our team had done extensive prep work—we worked through a lot of scenarios and felt really comfortable with our final answers—together, we were able to take a design from idea to documents suitable for construction permitting in just 14 days. We were approved for a loan from the Federal Housing Administration’s 203k acquisition and renovation program that allows buyers to combine a mortgage and repair loan—one of the conditions is that you have to work with an existing foundation. Since the house was abandoned, it was actually in the legal court process heading towards demolition. Thankfully the seller partnered with us and we were able to convince the court to lift the order so we could get clear title, buy the property, and demolish it by choice. This was key because we could save the foundation and fit the requirements of the loan—build off it pretty easily—and it saved a lot of the budget for the house itself. We wanted a simple house with no fuss—that would be dog-friendly for our extended family: Oscar, a Boston Terrier, and Wilbur, a French Bulldog—so everything went very quickly. We closed in January 2012 and demolished the old house in February. Armed with building permits issued in April, new construction took place in the spring and summer and we moved in September 30th—start to finish in 9 months. Although each part of the demolition and build was thrilling—the real fun really began when Scott took us through a few exercises to bring together our ideas and needs for the house. This gave him the opportunity to understand our visions and goals visually—and to dig out those we couldn’t communicate verbally. Since the house is only 40’ long—and the garage another 20’—we were left with nice size backyard on the 108’ long lot. Mimi McKay designed a modern garden off the spacious patio—equally important, she worked in a dog run on the side of the house. Overall, the backyard was transformed into a peaceful oasis and we’ve had a lot of fun learning to garden. Synergy Construction Group was a big part of our success. They installed all the cabinets we assembled—making them look more like built-ins—and executed the clean, overall look precisely; including a stunner of a fireplace. Once they finished, we filled the house with a mix of modern, vintage and industrial furnishings from eBay to CB2. In preparation for all the recent photo shoots, we just put up removable wallpaper from CB2 which added another layer with modern graphics and colors. It’s still a work in progress but we are thrilled to be living in the house we designed from start to finish, bottom to top, inside and out.
Overall, what we’re most proud of is that the house was built on a budget of just $140 / sf.
Here are just a few of the ways we were able to do it:
At 1600 sq ft—but with 3 bedrooms, 2.5 baths and a generous backyard—it’s all the space we need.
create a liveable outdoor space
When the weather’s good, the house feels bigger with the usable exterior space—and it gives us all more room to breath.
eliminate the basement
Bonus is that we got the concrete floors on first level that we wanted and we shored up the integrity of the foundation—which resulted in slab on grade foundation. Rather than adding the cost of covering it with hardwood, we stained the freshly poured concrete with a water-based dark grey stain.
no fussy details
Simple and clean was our motto and it permeated all the design details so we eliminated extras like crown moldings, window treatments, etc. Finishing details like tile, faucets, trim, etc had to come in on or below budget—which actually made selections easier because we had less options to choose from.
use stock cabinetry that requires assembly
We saved quite a bit on the initial cost—definitely on the labor. So while the house was being built over the summer, we staged 200 boxes in the garage and assembled all of the kitchen and bath cabinets ourselves.
no bespoke anything
We used mostly standard materials and fixtures. For example, to achieve the modern / commercial window look we were after, 3 standard size windows were ganged together and repeated throughout the house. The bonus—the windows are practically ceiling to floor allowing lots of natural light to flood the house.
stick to an aggressive budget—together!
We can’t tell you how many times one or both of us were enticed to blow the budget—test your relationship and talk through every detail. In the end, it made a house our home.